Friday, August 2, 2013

How Smart Are Dogs?

To continue on one point from my last post: abstract thinking in animals.

The experiment with “Chaser,” the female border collie, in the last 5 minutes of this video seems to show that dog capable of a simple inferential reasoning by exclusion. It is quite remarkable.


8 comments:

  1. The guy is using an entirely different tone of voice when he tells the dog to find Darwin. The dog is likely picking up that it bring back the unrecognised toy due to this.

    Even if this was not the case, I'm not sure that such an experiment shows inferential reasoning. Just that dog's associate unfamiliar noises with unfamiliar objects. This appears to me classic anthropomorphism where we read our experiences into those of animals.

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    1. The guy is using an entirely different tone of voice when he tells the dog to find Darwin. The dog is likely picking up that it bring back the unrecognised toy due to this.

      Even if this was not the case, I'm not sure that such an experiment shows inferential reasoning. Just that dog's associate unfamiliar noises with unfamiliar objects.


      I suppose that could be the explanation, but then why, if there is a direct link in the dog's mind between (1) a word in a different tone of voice and (2) an unfamiliar object, does the dog hesitate and take so long to figure it out? She was obviously engaged in some kind of cognition which was difficult for her.

      I mean what you're saying could be one part of its rudimentary inferential reasoning by exclusion.

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    2. If you know dogs you'd know why this is the case. What the dog is thinking -- if we can call what dogs do thinking (which I'm hesitant to do) -- when it is stalling is "what does my master want?" and "am I sure I want to risk connecting the unfamiliar tone with the unfamiliar toy?".

      A trained dog's modus operandi is to please its owner. Everything it does can be read in these terms. They are rather dim animals at the end of the day. But you often see them hesitate when the owner's command is in any way ambiguous.

      Lacan said somewhere of the behaviorist rat experiments that all these experiments tell us is about the desire of the experimenter and absolutely nothing about the rat. I generally hold that as a general rule in animal experiments. It is usually correct.

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  2. Here, I may as well narrate this experiment from where I'm standing.

    The guy has an emotional connection to either (a) his dog or (b) dogs more generally. This emotional connection is properly described as "love". Love-relations are always characterised by "indentification"** -- that is, the desire on the part of the lover to find commonalities between themselves and their love-object.

    The guy in the video, who is an astronomer or something I think, puts a lot of stock in his capacity to Reason. It is probably THE central aspect of his perception of himself (his ego). So, it is going to be an enormous emotional benefit for him if he can convince himself that his dog displays similar characteristics. He then uses his control over his dog to make it produce the desired result and emotionally benefit him.

    ** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identification_%28psychology%29

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  3. I was more impressed with the wolves. I got the distinct impression they were homesteading.

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  4. On (sic) topic, I recommend the movie Dean Spanley.

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    1. I've not seen that movie, unfortunately.

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